One of the first concepts that any poker player must learn in order to be successful is the effect that their position at the table has on both themselves and everyone else seated at the table during any given hand.
What Does Position Mean In Poker?
In games such as Texas Hold’em and Omaha where players take turns as the dealer—indicated by the dealer token or “button”—a player’s position is determined by where they are seated relative to the dealer. Each player’s position will change with each hand dealt as the dealer button moves around the table.
Why Position At The Poker Table Is Important
A player’s position at the poker table determines when that player will act during the course of a hand. Since poker is a game based on information—or lack of it—he (or she) who acts last has a definitive advantage over other players in the hand. Simply put, whoever acts last has the most information available to them before they decide what they want to do and can, therefore, make the best possible decisions. This player is said to be “in position” or to “have position” on other players.
On the other side of the coin, the player at the table that must act first has to do so with virtually no information at all. Depending on the exact situation, this player may know nothing more than the value of his own two cards. The decisions he needs to make are going to be much more difficult, especially if there are more than just two players involved in the hand. Anyone who is not acting last is said to be “out of position” versus any player that acts after them.
If you’re paying close attention, you may have also realized that if there are more than two players in a hand it is possible to have position on one player and be out of position versus another in the same hand.
It also possible that your position will change as players enter a hand before the flop and fold after the flop. For example, if you are seated in the middle during a three-way hand you have position on one player and are out of position versus the other. If the player to your right folds, you no longer have position on anyone. If the player to your left folds, you become last to act and nobody has position on you. These changes can—and should—influence the decisions you make.
Pre-Flop And Post-Flop Positions In Poker
It’s important to note that there are two different types of position in every poker hand. In the action before the flop (pre-flop), everyone at the table has an absolute position based on where they are seated relative to the dealer button. After the flop is dealt, players remaining in the hand have relative positions based on both where they are sitting in relation to each other and the dealer button. Absolute positions will not change, but relative positions might.
For the sake of clarity, it should also be pointed out that before the flop, technically, it would appear that the small blind and big blind positions are the last to act. This, however, is not really true. The blind positions are actually forced to act first, or blindly. They have placed a bet without even seeing their cards. They will then be able to call/check, fold, or re-raise after the rest of the players have taken their turns. After the flop, if they didn’t fold, players in the blinds will always be the first to act.
Absolute Positions At A Poker Table
The exact absolute positions that exist at a poker table depend on the number of players seated at the table. Each position has a common name that you’ll see or hear being used by players as they discuss poker hands and strategies. We’ll start with the common names, abbreviations, and terms used to describe positions at the poker table and then we’ll explain how they relate to some of the most popular table formats.
The small blind and big blind positions are forced to place bets before the flop and will always be the first to act after the flop. You will often see them referred to as the SB and the BB positions.
If you look at it one way, these two positions have a slight advantage pre-flop because they can decide last if they want to get involved in the hand before the flop is dealt. After the flop, however, they will always be out of position and forced to make decisions with very little information. This fact absolutely must be taken into account when making those pre-flop decisions.
Under The Gun
The under the gun position is the first seat to the left of the big blind. It is most often referred to by the abbreviation UTG. Pre-flop, UTG will be the first position to act voluntarily. Post-flop, UTG may have position on one or both of the blinds, but in most cases, UTG will end up being first to act after the flop as well.
Depending on the number of seats available at the table being discussed, you may also see positions labelled as UTG+1, UTG+2, or UTG+3. As you probably guessed, these each represent one more seat to the left of the under the gun position. (More on these below)
Most competent players will play their tightest ranges from these positions. When someone places a bet knowing they will be out of position for the rest of the hand it generally indicates they have something strong that they really like.
Middle Position is usually referred to as MP. You may see simply MP, or you may see notations such as MP1 and MP2. Again, the existence of these seats depends on the size of the table being discussed. You may also find that one player refers to a seat as UTG+2 and another refers to it as MP or MP1. If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
In middle position, most players will begin opening or calling with more speculative hands. There are fewer people to act after them and they can afford to take a bit more of a risk. It’s not a spot to get too crazy, however.
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Because of the arguable existence of the UTG+X and MP seats, it’s easier to refer to the next few positions by their distance from the dealer button rather than from the blinds. The last three seats at the table are referred to as the hijack, the cutoff, and the button.
The hijack position is usually referred to as HJ. There are only two more positions that can act after the HJ player. This is where a player starts to have a better chance of being in position versus early raisers without worrying that there will be many others to act after him. Players are much more likely to bet, call, or reraise when they find themselves in the hijack as opposed to early or middle positions.
The cutoff is the last seat at the table before the dealer (the button). You will see it referred to as the CO most often. Players will really start to act with a much wider range of hands from this position.
The chance of facing a reraise before the flop becomes quite small and the CO player also has a very good chance being or becoming the last player to act after the flop.
“The button” is the dealer position. It is most often denoted as BTN. The player seated in this position will always be the last player to act on every street after the flop. Players will often say they were “on the button” or “had the button” when discussing hands played from this position.
Competent players will open, call, raise and reraise with their widest range of hands from this position. Players in the blinds are less likely to reraise with anything but the strongest hands because they will be out of position after the flop and it is impossible for anyone else to gain position on the button. These two factors make the button the most advantageous position at the poker table.
Positions At A Full-Ring Poker Table
Most often when someone talks about a full-ring table they are talking about a poker table with nine seats. You may, however, see tables with 10 seats at some online sites, at live poker rooms, or in poker tournaments. At a nine-seat poker table, you will have the following positions:
1. Small Blind (SB)
2. Big Blind (BB)
3. Under The Gun (UTG)
4. Under The Gun + 1 (UTG+1)
5. Middle Position 1 (MP1)
6. Middle Position 2 (MP2)
7. Hijack (HJ)
8. Cutoff (CO)
9. Button (BTN)
In the case of a 10-seat table, you would add an UTG+2 position to what we’ve listed above.
Positions At A 6-Max Poker Table
A 6-max poker table is limited to only six seats. While full-ring is the most common format for tournaments and live cash games, the 6-max format is probably the most popular format among players for online cash games. Positions at a 6-max table work as if we removed three seats between the BB and HJ positions of a full-ring table. They would be as follows:
1. Small Blind (SB)
2. Big Blind (BB)
3. Under The Gun (UTG)
4. Hijack (HJ)
5. Cutoff (CO)
6. Button (BTN)
It should be noted that while the first position after the blinds is referred to as UTG on a 6-max table, players’ starting ranges closely resemble what would be the MP2 position at a full-ring table. Although players have to act with caution because they are out of position, they are also forced to play a wider range of starting hands because there are fewer players at the table.
Positions At a Heads-Up Poker Table
At a heads-up table, there are only two players. Both players are effectively playing in two positions simultaneously in this situation. The player who acts first before the flop will act last after the flop. The two positions are as follows:
1. Small blind (SB) / Button (BTN)
2. Big Blind (BB)
Before the flop, the small blind will have to act first. As in any regular hand, he can call, raise, or fold. The big blind can then make his decision but must consider that he will be forced to act first after the flop and will be out of position throughout the hand.
Positions At A Poker Table With Varying Players
To figure out the positions at a poker table with any other number of players, you should remove positions from the beginning of the table starting after the big blind.
For example, if you are playing at 6-max table and one person leaves, you would remove the UTG position. The remaining five positions at the table would be SB, BB, HJ, CO, and BTN. If another left, the four remaining positions would be SB, BB, CO, and BTN. When people leave a full-ring table, you would remove positions starting with the UTG and MP positions.
It does not matter where the person who leaves was actually, physically sitting at the table. When someone leaves, you will always mentally remove the first position after the big blind.
So there you have a full explanation of all of the possible positions at a poker table and how you should generally play and expect others to play in each of them. Of course, as with all things in poker, nothing is absolute. Other players will most certainly mix up their play in different positions, as should you from time to time.
What do you think? What’s your favorite position to be in at the poker table, and how do you play it? Let us know in the comments!
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